Demi Lovato's Mom Opens Up About Escaping Abusive First Marriage: 'I Knew I Had to Get Out'
“I thought I could change him," Lovato's mom, Dianna De La Garza, says of her abusive first husband
Dianna wed Patrick Lovato in 1984, and their marriage soon turned volatile. The couple welcomed their first daughter, Dallas, in 1988; Pat’s substance abuse spiraled out of control, and he couldn’t hold a job. Soon after, Dianna reveals in her book Falling with Wings: A Mother’s Story, an enraged Pat slammed a door so hard on Dianna’s hand that she lost a finger. Dianna was deeply distressed but stayed with her husband because, two months later, she learned she was pregnant again.
It wasn’t until 1994 — when their second daughter, Demetria “Demi” Devonne, was 18 months old — that Dianna finally summoned the courage to walk away from the marriage.
“I thought I could change him, and I think victims of domestic abuse often feel the same way. You’re not always going to be able to change someone, no matter how much you want to. There may come a point where your love for that person may not be enough to keep you safe,” says Dianna, now 55.
The young mother turned to a local women’s shelter when she decided to leave Pat.
“I didn’t know how to leave, and I didn’t have any money,” Dianna says. “I would call them every day and talk to them, trying to gain the courage. I would ask them questions like, ‘Am I doing the right thing by splitting up my family?’”
Dianna adds that her daughters’ wellbeing was the deciding factor in ending her marriage.
“When I realized they were not safe anymore, no matter how much I loved this person and wanted things to change, I knew I had to get out,” she says.
Nearly 25 years later, Dianna says talking about the abuse in her first marriage is “still very hard,” but sharing her story is “therapeutic.” Dianna lived with scars from her first marriage for years, finally seeking help in 2011 when she entered a residential treatment center for PTSD, depression, anxiety, anorexia and Xanax addiction. (Demi entered the same facility in 2010 to deal with her bipolar disorder, bulimia, self-harm and substance abuse.)
“There were a lot of memories I had of that situation that I had pushed back in my memory, and something that is helpful is I did process through a lot of that incident when I was in a treatment center,” says Dianna, who maintains her mental health today with therapy.
For much more on Demi Lovato’s mom, Dianna De La Garza — including an exclusive excerpt of her new book — pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
RELATED VIDEO: Why Demi Lovato Says She Quit Dieting: “I Weigh a Little More but That’s OK”
“Pat had a good heart. He really did. He loved his family; it’s just that he had mental health issues that were never addressed. And I think he covered up those issues with drugs and alcohol,” says Dianna, who believes her first husband lived undiagnosed with bipolar disorder. “I always encouraged my girls to have a relationship with him…as long as he was responsible and wasn’t putting them in any danger. I wanted them to love him. They talked to him on the phone and tried to have a relationship with him, until he passed away.”
Dianna married Eddie De La Garza in 1995 and welcomed their third daughter, future Desperate Housewives actress Madison, in 2001. The family has weathered mental illness and substance abuse challenges but are now happier and healthier than ever.
Today, Dianna hopes talking about domestic violence can help others quietly suffering the same circumstances.
“I want people to see how my story turned out when I actually got help and decided to leave,” she says. “My life turned out so much better after I made that decision to strike out on my own. So I don’t want people to be afraid of that.”
Says Demi: “I’m so proud of my mom for achieving something she’s always wanted to do — tell her story. She’s resilient, inspiring and strong. Because of her journey and strength to overcome the obstacles that she’s faced in her life, she is my hero.”
Falling with Wings: A Mothers Story, by Dianna De La Garza (with Vickie McIntyre), is available everywhere March 6.